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Wildfires In Northern California Force Nearly 200,000 People To Evacuate


We begin this hour in California, where thousands of people have fled their homes. Wildfires are burning across the state. In Southern California, the Getty fire is threatening homes in wealthy areas of west Los Angeles. And in Northern California, the Kincaid fire has forced evacuations across Sonoma County in the heart of wine country. The county sheriff, Mark Essick, defended those evacuations today.


MARK ESSICK: It's really first to protect your life. As you've heard me talk over the last couple days, life is the most important thing. We have the warning. We have the ability to predict somewhat where this fire is going, so we want to get people out in front of that fire to save life.

SHAPIRO: Reporter Jeremy Siegel of member station KQED is covering the Kincaid fire and joins us now. Hi, Jeremy.


SHAPIRO: First, just describe what it's like where you are.

SIEGEL: It's very smoky. It's a very active situation. I'm outside of base camp, where firefighters are based, and I'm just seeing fire engines coming in and out constantly. This is a large fire. Since it ignited last week, It's just been fueled by these gusty winds. And over the weekend, we saw an extreme wind event that weather officials were calling historic, with gusts up to 90 mph. And this was causing potentially erratic fire behavior. And it's because of these just super strong winds fanning the fire that you have the sheriff instituting these extremely widespread evacuations.

SHAPIRO: I mean, yeah, you say they're extremely widespread. It's just staggering to think of the scale of people who are having to leave their homes. What does that mean for people who you're speaking with?

SIEGEL: It's difficult for them. I mean, this is the largest evacuation in the history of Sonoma County. Evacuation centers are filling up very quickly. People are trying to find places to go. It's difficult for them. You know, they don't know when they're going to be allowed to go back to their homes, potentially if their home is even still standing. We have had structures destroyed as a result of this fire. So officials are hoping that in the coming days they're going to be allowing some people to return to their homes. But at the same time, it's an active situation, and there are still the possibilities of more evacuations.

SHAPIRO: And this region has had devastating fires before. And so how are people holding up?

SIEGEL: It's very difficult for people. I mean, you'll remember last year we had the devastating Camp fire further north, and then the year before that, in 2017, this exact same region saw an extremely destructive firestorm that killed more than 40 people.

I spoke with Lisa Gerhold (ph). She is a 32-year resident of Santa Rosa, which parts of the city are currently under evacuation. And she says evacuating this time, it brings up difficult memories.

LISA GERHOLD: Oh, this would be my second time. I was evacuated in 2017 as well. I have trauma syndrome now - PTSD.

SIEGEL: And Ari, that's a refrain that you're hearing from a lot of people up here. At the same time, I will say that the past experiences of these wildfires, it has led people to be more prepared. More people are preemptively preparing for evacuations. And also, it's led to more preparation from local and fire officials up here.

SHAPIRO: We've been hearing your and other reports on the massive blackouts across California that the power company PG&E put into place to try to prevent its equipment from sparking more fires. Has that helped or made things worse? What's the effect been?

SIEGEL: I mean, it's a little soon to tell whether it's helped. But PG&E will say this is their best bet for preventing more wildfires. There's a lot of frustration from people because, you know, these blackouts, they make communication difficult. And for some people, there's concerns about, you know, not being able to receive evacuation notices. So it's frustrating for some people.

SHAPIRO: Just briefly, what do firefighters expect into tonight and tomorrow?

SIEGEL: There's a brief lull in the wind, so they're hoping to make a lot of progress. But looking at tomorrow, there's another wind event. So it's an active situation.

SHAPIRO: That's Jeremy Siegel of member station KQED, reporting on the wildfires in Sonoma County in Northern California. Thanks, Jeremy. And stay safe.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeremy Siegel